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Medical Column
Taste Is Not Just Taste
Special Contribution
By Dr. Raimund Royer, Jaseng Hospital
Dr. Raimund Royer of Jaseng Hospital treating a patient

Eating is one of the most important daily routines that humans share. Beyond simply satisfying the basic survival instinct, it can be one of the great pleasures in life. The skillful combination of the various tastes that human beings can perceive from food is an art form, revered in virtually all cultures and societies.

Modern nutritional science focuses on analyzing foodstuff according to its components: fats, protein, vitamins and minerals; as well as its caloric value. Subsequently, consumer recommendations are given based on the average need for the average body. On the other hand, Oriental Medicine, which employs natural herbs, minerals and sometimes animal components for therapeutic purposes, views food differently. Virtually since its inception, Oriental Medicine began to observe and chart the various ‘in vivo’ effects of the 5 different flavors: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty.

The sour flavor, via its astringent character, can be helpful in cases of coughing, diarrhea, urinary incontinence and profuse sweating. Sour also strengthens liver function and consequently the muscles, but excessive intake can lead to urinary difficulties and exacerbate certain illnesses. When we catch a cold, common sense tells us to ingest plenty of vitamin C, abundant in citrus fruits, to strengthen the immune system. The mostly-sour citrus fruits, however, due to their astringent properties, effectually draw disease-causing intruders deeper inside the body. As a consequence, the disease can become even more severe.

In many cases, the proper response to a persistent cold would be to sweat the intruders out. For this reason, Oriental Doctors normally use pungent herbs to promote sweating, thus encouraging the transpiration of the intruders out of the body system. In addition, the pungent flavor has properties that serve to generate heat, elevate energy, stimulate the appetite and strengthen stomach function. Recently, modern science has proven that hot red pepper and garlic protect the stomach flora against the dangerous helicobacter pylori, a strain of bacteria which have been deemed responsible for many cases of gastric ulcer and stomach cancer.

The sweet taste is the harmonizer among the flavors. It relaxes the muscular system, nourishes and revitalizes the body, generates Qi (energy) and Yang, which helps to detoxify our innards and encourages the production of body fluids. Too much sweet, however, leads to an overproduction of body fluids. The heart and lungs become ‘overcharged’, which might result in asthmatic symptoms.

The taste we normally associate with medicine is the bitter one. This flavor draws heat out of the body, eases the stool, dries excess moisture, and often has anti-inflammatory or detoxifying effects. Bitter nourishes the heart, and generates blood and Yin in the body. An excess of this taste, however, negatively influences stomach function and can lead to vomiting.

The salty taste, despite recent bad press it has received regarding the correlation between excessive intake and cardiovascular problems, is nevertheless essential for all body functions. Oriental Medicine utilizes it for its helpful role in smoothening sclerotic tissues, calming excess energy and supporting the excretion functions, as well as for its coagulative properties.

We have been endowed with the ability to discern the different tastes not merely to satisfy an instinctual drive, but to analyze the needs of our bodies, and respond appropriately, through administering the proper combination of the best medicine available: natural food.

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